Rhythm games generally bring to mind expensive peripherals that send an otherwise normal game into the $80 or even $100 price range. Ouch. What’s nice about the DS is its touch-based technology that has rhythm potential already built in. Unfortunately, this has never been used to any great advantage– until now. So if you’ve been pining for somebody to finally step forward and take the initiative, rest easy. The wait is over.
You may have already heard of Elite Beat Agent’s Japanese step-brother, Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan, but EBA is more than just a translated import of that one. The style has undergone an American touch and tells more familiar–though completely wacky–stories through comic book stills. Of course, the Japanese influence is still present, since most characters tend to sport the manga/anime expression for angry: gaping mouth with razor teeth and big, shadowed, blank eyes. If you’re not a fan of such, I still see no reason why you can’t enjoy this game’s off-the-wall presentation. It’s silly, a little insane, and quite likable.
And then you have the music itself, a fairly nice collection of pop and rock covers from artists like the Rolling Stones, Village People, and Jackson 5. There are also those songs that seem to be in every rhythm game: “Material Girl” and “Rock This Town,” to name a few. Certainly, this may not be your forte, but within the context of the game, it actually works. The songs go well with the stories and are a lot of fun to play along to. The music also sounds very good coming out of the DS speakers. But due to the limitations of the DS, only about 18 songs are available. It’s a meager number compared to other rhythm games yet still offers plenty to do.
But what do you do? Numbered buttons will appear on the screen with circles slowly (or quickly) closing in on them. Your aim is to tap each button when its outer circle overlaps. If you can do this to the beat of the music, you’ll score higher points, obviously. And it’s this “beat” which makes Elite Beat Agents such a fun experience. All rhythm games are supposed to mimic the music patterns with whatever peripheral you’re using (dance pad, bongos, guitar), but none of them come as close as Elite Beat Agents does with a simple stylus. The tapping mechanic works incredibly well and successfully bridges that gap between you and the music. You won’t feel like you’re playing, but you will somehow, unexplainably feel like a part of it. And that’s a powerful feeling for a handheld video game.
Not everything is nice and wonderful, though. Aside from just tapping the screen, you will also drag the stylus across certain sections and even spin a wheel. The inclusion of spinning a wheel, however, feels very out of place. It doesn’t go along with the music, and it isn’t all that fun. I always feel like I’m scratching my screen up in the process, and I would have preferred this little element to be left out. On top of the wheel, every song has breaks in the action for the story to continue to unfold. These are funny the first few times (especially if you messed up horribly in a section because the cutscene will reflect it), but when you’ve stuck with the game long enough, you’ll quickly grow tired of seeing the same things over and over. There needed to be a mode where you could play songs straight through without having these ten-second breaks every 30 seconds.
In the end, Elite Beat Agents is easily finished in only a few hours. But the game’s enjoyable nature merits the want to play a few rounds from time to time, plus there are added levels of difficulty that get ridiculously challenging. If you want a good fight, you got it, because some of the later songs on the harder settings are just brutal and will take some time to master. You can also play head-to-head against other players. A single-card download option is available but gives you a rather limited song selection. It’s not quite as fun as playing solo but is a nice addition.
This is easily one of the best games to show off the capabilities and values of the DS. It’s wacky, it puts the touch screen and dual screen ideas to good use, and it’s very accessible. This is pure, unadulterated fun with enough challenge to suit those who need it. Elite Beat Agents packs a lot of heart and gives you perhaps the greatest example of how gameplay and music can coincide to create the ultimate rhythm experience. It’s not entirely perfect–the wheel spin and overuse of cutscenes see to that–but you owe it to yourself as a DS owner to give it a try.